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Democracy and the foundations of legitimacy

Nicholas van Praag's picture

This post is part of a series of interviews with members of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council.

With the ongoing protests and calls for democratic reform in Egypt -- and in other parts of the Arab world -- there is a lot of interest in the grievances and aspirations that lie behind the unrest. In this interview, Mr. Louis Michel, a member of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council and member of the European Parliament, discusses the role of the state and the foundations of legitimacy.


Whither Côte d’Ivoire?

Nicholas van Praag's picture


    Don't assume anything.   Photo source FP.

The stand-off between Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara in Côte D’Ivoire highlights the new role of regional organizations in dealing with the challenges of irresponsible leadership in their own backyards.

In microeconomics we assume perfect information in the same way we often assume responsible leadership in fragile states. While the former is a convenient analytical artifice, the latter can be downright misleading.  


It is important to recognize this because our prescriptions for building public confidence and conflict-resistant institutions are predicated on a view of national leadership that may be the exception rather than the rule.


Leaders in violence-prone places are not necessarily thinking of some higher good when they choose a particular course of action. Many see their responsibility in narrow terms; an obligation that goes no further than serving their own self-interest and looking out for their friends.


These kinds of behaviors are hard to influence where politics is played as a zero sum game. To change them, the United Nations, the World Bank, and some bilateral agencies have supported programs to foster cooperative leadership and build coalitions. This takes a long time to show results and, of course, there’s no guarantee such a soft approach will work in a high stakes environment.   


Another way is to spell out the consequences of things turning sour. The diplomatic and development community tried this in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s by underlining the growing gap in social and economic outcomes between Zimbabwe and its neighbors.


Absolute democracy

Nigel Roberts's picture

Trisuli Bazaar, Nuwakot District, Middle Hills of Nepal—November 19

    Nigel and Deepak (from left) in a Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) district office in Nuwakot.

Returning to Nepal after a gap of 16 years, I am struck by the explosion in political activity. The Nepal I knew was a politically literate country, and my memories of the Eastern Hills in the 1970s are peppered with intense discussions about landlordism, police corruption and the lifestyles of appointed district politicians.

But this is something different. I have arrived in Trisuli with Holly Benner of the WDR core team, and Deepak Thapa, our lead author for the WDR case study on Nepal. Three hours by winding road from Kathmandu, Trisuli is a town of perhaps 3,000 people, with one main street and a few simple shops. An hour’s walk up the hill is Nuwakot, the site of a glorious old Newar palace built in 1762, and soon thereafter occupied by King Prithivi Narayan Shah as his capital as he planned the unification of Nepal.

We find Trisuli consumed by politics, to an extent you would hardly ever see in a small town in Europe or the USA. In the course of the day we meet all three main national parties, as well as the government’s Chief District Officer and Chief of Police.